Picture this: You have just arrived in London after months of planning, preparation and effort. You are seeking a new adventure, something different from the lifestyle and routine you had back home. First and foremost, however, you are hungry for an opportunity to be a teacher. To be given a chance to do what you feel is the best career for you. You know it will be hard, tricky at the very least. Still, you revel in the challenge; you are excited and you look forward to this new journey in your life. Having arrived, you immerse yourself in a rich culture and style of life in old, majestic London. Routines emerge, comfort levels are reached, and you discover new and interesting things about yourself and who you are. Life is good.
Day to day cover teaching is usually the avenue of choice for most new teachers. It offers the prospect of learning about the British school system a little better, standard routines you must follow and the overall feel of inner city schools. You discover the true art of classroom management, you gain some invaluable experience and the months slowly go by. It is a great way to start, and some choose to stay in this comfortable position of daily morning calls, working in a variety of unique, interesting schools. Responsibilities are at a minimum and you can go home to your swanky flat at the end of each day, knowing the evenings are yours, and the weekends even more so.
After a half term or so, some teachers in the UK begin to grow weary of the set routine of supply teaching. But this also holds true for cover teaching in any school system in the world, really. Waking up in the morning, not knowing whether you will be working or not, eventually becomes tiresome – mentally. If there is a single doubt in your mind about you working on a particular day, that doubt has an effect on you like no other. Your guard goes down and you relax as the minutes go by, waiting for that phone call. When you do eventually get that call – which could be anywhere between 7:05 and past 8 am – it is like you have to reset your mind all over again for the day ahead. You might have already put on your sleeping attire again for an early morning nap, guessing it was too late to get a call at the time. That is not to say you are lazy, unmotivated or anything of the sort. Never think that. It is natural for us to feel that way. Your mind will play tricks on you and the routine of no guarantees and inconsistency of cover work can be unhealthy and stressful. Hence the unappealing nature of day to day cover work for some. You just never know when you will be teaching. Many are comfortable with this. Yet, there are plenty of teachers who seek a different kind of challenge.
We have all heard about or seen the classic image of a teacher with their very own classroom, students’ work on display all over the room, and their personal touches evident throughout – family pictures or banners of their favourite football or baseball teams. Maybe even movie posters and meaningful quotes on the wall behind their cluttered desk, a fresh apple placed casually in the corner. Every student knows this classic teacher, saying hi to them in the hallway, stopping him or her for a chat about their homework last night or whether their projects are due that afternoon. A never ceasing wave of “Good morning Sir!” and “Can I show you my book in class Miss?” It’s quite lovely.
This idyllic image of a school teacher’s life is not far from the truth. Not at all. If anything, it is quite common. How it is achieved is quite another thing. When living the life of a cover teacher, you simply do not have the opportunity to develop solid working relationships with the staff, or really get to know your students well and watch them progress in their education throughout the school year. You do not have the luxury of having your own classroom or time to decorate it your way. You cannot truly get involved in the school’s extra-curricular activities and really immerse yourself in the positive ethos and culture of the school and community. This is something that can only be achieved by becoming a long-term cover teacher and, eventually, a fully contracted teacher, working at a single school on a permanent basis.
It is a tremendously exciting prospect, so unique and rewarding in many different ways. All those months, days and hours toiling away during Teacher’s College, making lesson plans and enduring one practicum after another. Your hard work and effort finally comes to fruition when you become a long-term teacher at one school. The interesting lesson plans you remember designing all those months ago can once again be used. The creativity you once harnessed in your planning, the memorization of students’ names, developing a rapport with your very own classes now suddenly becomes a reality.
Nevertheless, with this opportunity comes the responsibility that you take up as a long-term teacher. Your work doubles at the very least, your free evenings dwindle away and demanding deadlines suddenly arise. Days become more hectic, stress elevates, but one thing is certain: There is no aspect of teaching that is more fulfilling, more satisfactory than working at a single school full-time and long term. It is in choosing this role that you can truly come to fruition as a teacher and as a person, growing beyond your wildest expectations.